Caer-r-r-dydd, Cymru! (Cardiff, Wales)

(English below)  Nid wyf wedi penderfynu ar hyn o bryd beth yw’r swydd hon mewn gwirionedd; ffotograffiaeth neu deithio … felly ychydig o’r ddau …

Nid wyf erioed wedi bod yng Nghaerdydd ac eto trwy gydol fy mywyd, mae’r Gymraeg a Chymru wedi bod yn rhan o lawer o atgofion. Fy brwsh cyntaf gyda’r Gymraeg oedd tra’n i’n gweithio fel darlithydd yn Saesneg mewn prifysgol yng Ngwlad Pwyl. Yng Ngwlad Pwyl?? Roedd gan yr Adran Ieithyddiaeth Saesneg Bennaeth a oedd yn “Celt-ophile” go iawn ac roedd yn ofynnol i fyfyrwyr gymryd tair blynedd o Gaeleg Cymraeg neu Iwerddon i gwblhau eu gradd. Roedd fy ngŵr, ar ôl gorffen gradd o’r fath, wedi cael gorchymyn eithaf cadarn o’r Gymraeg ac yn aml yn darllen straeon megis “Y Lindysyn Llwglyd Iawn” yn Gymraeg i’n bechgyn bach. Yn y dyddiau hynny, y ‘gair gyfrinachol rhyngom ni y gallem adael parti diflas neu sgwrs oedd “tatws” yn Gymraeg! Mae’n debyg bod fy nghyfenw yn enwog yn ogystal ag enw brodyr fy mam-gu (Gethin), felly mae’n debyg y bydd Caerdydd yn le lle’n hwyrach neu’n hwyrach, byddwn yn dod i ben … fe allwch weld ble mae hyn yn mynd….

A few weeks ago, my husband and I, plus in-laws, spent an incredibly beautiful two weeks in a Georgian village, called Freshford; in the middle of the Somerset countryside, just 15 minutes by train from Bath.

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I have never been to Cardiff and yet throughout my life, Welsh and Wales has been a part of many memories. My first brush with Weslsh was while working as a lecturer of English at a university in Poland. In Poland?? The Department of English Linguistics had a Head who was a real ‘Celt-ophile’ and students were required to take three years of Welsh or Irish Gaelic in order to complete their degree. My husband, having finished such degree at such university, had a pretty solid command of Welsh and often read stories such as “The Very Hungry Catepillar” in Welsh to our little boys. In those days, the ‘secret word” between us to leave a boring party or conversation was “potato” (“tatws”) in Welsh or the sayings of “dim problem” or “Rwy’n hoffi toffi coffi!”, which I still say now (to myself). Years previous to getting married,  I had been to a wedding in Brest, France, where everyone, including the children, were running around speaking Welsh, Cornish, Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, Breton or any other variety of Celtic lingua-franca. My dorm room at the local school even included a full-sized harp in the corner! My surname is apparently Welsh as well as my grandmother’s maiden name (Gethin), so I guess Cardiff is a place where sooner or later, I would end up visiting…. you can see where this is going….

So, setting out for a day trip on my own on this Bank Holiday, while the rest of the crew were out cycling around Somerset, I only knew four things about where I was going:

-they speak Welsh

-it is on the water

-there is a castle

-and on a Bank Holiday Sunday, it is extremely unlikely to arrive at your destination and then depart from the same place using the same mode of transportation (the English seem to delight in shutting down major sections of track and road on the only days were families can have fun together).

I wasn’t diappointed – by any of the above…the train only went as far as Newport, next a coach to Cardiff, then arrival at a rather dismal train station with a rather dismal walk under a railway bridge, up a hill, across deserted streets and along to a pedestrian mall filled mostly by pubs, which were being cleaned up after a busy and messy Saturday night. Not the most encouraging of beginnings. Followed by the comment of the counter girl in the only open cafe (Starbuck’s) of “Have you been here before? I’m English, what do you think of Cardiff? Not so nice, is it?”, all was not looking too good…. well, not yet anyway.

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In the sunshine, and after a coffee, Cardiff  (Caerdydd) turned out to be a rather lovely place to be but you had to look for the gems hidden away around corners and through alleys. Hidden between the facades of old buildings are narrow entrances into magical Victorian laneways (arcades) topped with glass roofs and lined with plaster cornicing, tall, wooden-framed windows and pretty lanterns (also found a fantastic vegetarian cafe where you can sit “out” under the glass roof, surrounded by Welsh conversation: Crumbs Cafe, Morgan Arcade).

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And, yes there is a real castle in the middle of the city…

 

Beside the castle is a very pretty park where you can take a boat to the waterfront “Mermaid Quay” area on Cardiff Bay – the “locals” told me it was faster than taking the city bus to the waterfront.

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It was a real suprise to hear how many familes and children are now speaking Welsh as their first tongue in the park and how much “Welsh pride” is to be seen on the streets (and an idea just in case you don’t know how to dress your Welsh child for their first day of school…). I was having difficulty with the post-processing of the red hair of the little girl I saw walking down the street until I looked again at the original shot and realized that this was the actual colour of her hair! Beautiful red.

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Sailboats, the Norwegian Church (where Roald Dahl attended), music, singing, sunshine it was hard to start the journey back to Somerset… so “Yn agos at Loegr” (“time to go back to England”), for as a lovely English friend used to say with her crisp, perfect vowels, “its teatime“….

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**PS….why has this post wandered into the ‘travelogue’ genre and less about photography? Welll… I am still having a technical love-hate relationship with my new lens (actually more hate than love) as it is a manual focus, and the ol’ eyesight is fading with old-age, and I don’t like the results I have been getting, and, and, and….. I know it is a case of practice and more practice but for this trip, I relied on my iPhone with varying results (resolution ?? definitely for one)….I think I still need more practice…. Hwyl am nawr! (Bye for now…)

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Bokeh @ the Vitra

I have a love-hate relationship with my 50mm prime lens. Love, as it is small, light and incredibly fast to focus, hate because it means I need to use my feet to compose an image instead of zooming in and out with a telephoto lens as I am used to. I suppose it comes down to what one is used to and feels comfortable with. My 50mm has definitely been out of my comfort zone until today.

As it is a public holiday here, and having a guest visiting from the US, it was a perfect time to spend the day with friends @ the Vitra Design Museum (design-museum.de/…/the-vitra-design-museum) in near-by Weil am Rhien, Germany. Even though it is found amongst farmers’ fields and country villages, the Vitra is one of the leading design museums in the world. Wandering amongst  buildings (and furniture!) designed by the likes of Buckminster Fuller, Frank Gehry and Ray & Charles Eames, the air was simply fizzing with creative energy and inspiration (by the way, check out the amazing slide by Carsten Hoeller (design-museum.de/…nformation/vitra-campus but probably a good idea before lunch). It was also a relaxed opportunity to talk “shop”  with some very avid photographers. As four Nikons ‘hit’ the table in the cafe (gently, don’t worry!) and coffees were ordered, the conversation turned technical and along came the topic of bokeh. I have to admit that I love the effect that bokeh has, especially when I see it used for capturing images of hand-made Kinfolk-type objects (pottery and the like) and in portaits, but other than a general theoretical knowledge of what it was, I had no clue on how to use it myself, unless it happened in a photo as a “lucky mistake”.

Bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke (暈け or ボケ), meaning “blur” or “haze”, or boke-aji (ボケ味),”blur quality“. Bokeh is the artisitically blurry or glittery background you find in many commercial photographs used in lifestyle blogs, macro shots of flowers, insects or anything small, landscapes, portraits and the like. It’s effect helps to focus the viewer’s gaze on the main subject of the photo, while adding a textured background that won’t compete or clutter the impact of the image.  

But how to do this? No clue…. Well, bokeh turns out to be not so complicated, I just needed a better, yet simple understanding of how my lens worked  and a gentle nudge forward to try something new.

Looking for something to experiment with, a chair outside on the sunny patio…

and the cheerful table decoration became willing subjects for a bokeh effect.

There are many good resources on the web for learning how to bokeh your way into lovely captures. Here is one that I found to be easy to understand, just to get you started (your gentle nudge forward in trying something new)….

Digital Photography School:   http://frame.bloglovin.com/?post=5648241377&blog=567509&frame_type=none

 

 

Bauhaus By Daylight…

The morning has come early today – bright, sunny, humid and already hot. I love the curves of the Bauhaus buildings in this neighborhood and am now discovering their elegant and graceful curves on buildings I have passed by a hundred times and never bothered to look up and notice. I also see that the architecture of many of the modern high-rise apartment blocks down the street reverberate with Bauhaus ‘shadows’.

I revisited the same corner at Kikar Dizengoff this morning and took photos by daylight of some of the same buildings. They exude a completely different feeling in the morning sun. Walking further down Dizengoff Street, I also took a few photos of one of the modern buildings built during the past few years.

White City, Tel Aviv תל-אביב

White City (העיר הלבנה‎‎, Ha-Ir ha-Levana, tel-aviv.gov.il/en/Pages/HomePage.aspxis a collection of over 4000(!) original white buildings built in a unique Bauhaus or International  Style in the very centre of Tel Aviv. Built in the 1930’s by German-Jewish architects fleeing from Nazi persecution, White City became a UNESCO  world heritage site in 2003 as “an outstanding example of new town planning and architecture in the early 20th century.” The original European architectural style was adapted to the  realities of the local hot and humid Mediterranean climate by changing the exterior colour to white to reflect the sun’s rays and replacing the large areas of glass in the European Bauhaus style with smaller recessed windows to limit the amount of sunshine and heat entering the apartments.  The originally designed slanted roofs were replaced with flat ones to allow residents to use them as terraces to take advantage of incoming sea breezes. Staying in a Bauhaus apartment just down the block from Kikar Dizengoff (Dizengoff Square) (https://happyintlv.net/item/in-2017-dizengoff-square-wont-look-like-this-anymore/). I can attest to the sensibility of these adaptations as the temperatures and humidity in Tel Aviv have soared the past few days. Although the main streets are full of people in outdoor cafes and restuarants in the evenings, my street remains peaceful, deserted and very quiet at night.

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Walking home tonight, I was struck by the contrast of the curving white shapes of the buildings agains the dark night sky. I had a bit of fun post-processing them afterwards (but only a bit, I promise!) and I love the “noisy” (grainy) effect that the low light gave these photos – a bit ‘Rodchenko-esque’ (theartstory.org/artist-rodchenko-alexander.htm) by accident!

Animal Farm – ‘Grun 80’

Today was the first really Spring-like day this year; sunny with deep contrasty shadows, warm enough to throw coats and caution to the wind, flowers popping their heads up everywhere you look. Just lovely! The perfect day to visit “Grun 80” or “Grun Achtzig” (parkimgruenen.ch)  – not far from home. Many years ago when I first moved here, a dear friend introduced me to this beautiful park in Spring; to the swans a-swimming with their cygnets, very photogenic ducks in thier pond, flowers and trees a-blooming, the herb garden, orchard and many other lovely growing things – all near the centre of the city. There are outdoor concerts on Sundays, a waterside cafe and a small working farm complete with animals. At present, the main attraction is the new “crop” of baby lambs. The adult sheep come right up to the fence for a pat by curious children and their parents. I love the way the sheep’s horns curl around their ears and how one rather cheeky sheep kept sticking his tongue out at the little girl stroking his back! 

Alpenhorn Sunday

New Year’s Day was glorious – a bright blue sky, sunshine and cold! Perfect for a walk around town with my dearest, followed by coffee by the fireplace at a favourite downtown cafe. Little did we expect the Marktplatz to be full of alpenhorn players getting ready to “ring” in 2017 with a blast!

Alpenhorns are native instruments to Switzerland, Austria and other alpine countires, where they were orginially used to communicate between mountain villages. They have a special sound that evokes memories of mountain walks and Swiss folklore (Alepenhorn World Record).

Basel is basically flat Basel-The Pocket Metropolis, no tall, snow-capped mountains in sight, so to find over a hundred alphorn players in one place was a rare treat – and a lot of fun! One of the musicians explained that theyhad come from all over Switzerland and had connected by email to create this impromptu concert. My favourite of all – the curly alpenhorn – a real individualist!

*For a better look, click on any photo to view in gallery format.

Eccelston SQUARE

Yesterday was cold in London: frost on the top of cars and bright red mailboxes, commuters folded into their coats and thick scarves as they rushed to (delayed yet again) trains at Victoria Station. Only  a few streets away from all of this frenetic movement, there is a little oasis of calm and reflection locked away behind a metal gate in Eccelston Square– a natural escape for the few to enjoy in a busy city. Walking past the gate, I was drawn to the contrast of straight angles and curved lines, the juxtaposition of forged iron and the natural forms of trees and leaves.

This shot also led me to think about the effect picture format has on the way we view images. Playing with the focal point of pictures – where is the eye of the viewer drawn? – as well as symmetry and form; lines, grids, and texture, I have been thinking about how a square photo format can enhance symmetry and draw the eye to the centre of the image.

Here are two versions of the same photo – one traditionally rectangular, the other using a square format. Which version is more effective? Which one do you prefer?

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“In Flow” – thanks Otto!

I “borrowed” (stole?) today’s title from a photo blog that continues to have an important influence on me, and has raised some great questions and topics which have impacted the way I am learning to visually think about photography. The blog is called In Flow  by the talented Norwegian photographer Otto von Munchow. Highly reccommended for anyone involved in creative pursuits or who just wants to explore new ideas.

Flow…. in London, the flow and tides of the Thames defines the city; its post codes, neighbourhoods, history, even the way people pronounce and use words, are defined in part by the Thames and one’s location in relation to its flow. For an inland city, flowing water has a powerful hold on the city. There is a little square, across from Borough Market, between some office towers and within sight of Tower Bridge, which is cross-crossed by sunken troughs of flowing water. I took a shot there several years ago which I turned into a photo-etching, and now I have returned to take more photos with the hope of making prints from them sometime soon. Please let me know what you think and how to improve!

 

‘Pretty’ just makes me happy….

Winter is in the air – the days are getting shorter, the light sharper and the temperatures icier! I came across this photo this evening and it made me think of good times and sunny days this past summer. It is one of those shots that just makes me happy! (Photo taken at the opening of the Gottard Tunnel in a neighbouring Italian-speaking Swiss village, full of stone houses and good wine!)

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